GREEN WEEK Environmental Regulations: What Manufacturers Should Expect in the Next Decade

by Jenny Knodell, IQS Editor

As you’ve probably noticed, environmental regulations in this country have been getting tighter. Due to a high degree of waste and pollution in the manufacturing process, the green movement is affecting us first and foremost. Within the past decade, the dangers of global warming and greenhouse gas emissions have transformed from hear-say to a huge, pressing problem that is impossible to ignore. The changes and restrictions in recent years and those that are soon to come will change every US industry, whether they like it or not. Regardless of the high cost and struggles it is likely to cause, green manufacturing is no longer just an option. The manufacturing sector wastes energy, pollutes our air and water, and generates mass quantities of solid, liquid and gaseous waste.

Green manufacturing is implemented by 4 major laws and their amendments, which were put into motion around 1970. The Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act all regulate and set the standards of US manufacturing, in addition to some state and local laws. The EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, is behind many of these laws. As you might expect, manufacturers and the lawmakers that put environmental restrictions into effect are forever bumping heads—many feel that green manufacturing inevitably leads to severe job loss and plummeting profits. A newer school of thought, encompassed by what is known as Lean Manufacturing, is focused on green practices and their ability to become positive and beneficial for both the Earth and the manufacturing sector. It is rapidly expanding to manufacturers in the US for a number of reasons. Not only does it cut down on waste, Lean manufacturing is proven to improve efficiency and reduce production costs as well.

Perhaps the biggest regulation, the EPA pollution permit, will affect power plants, industrial plants and other large greenhouse gas emitters beginning in January of 2011. It will require these facilities to possess permits that prove they are using the best and newest methods to reduce emissions. This law was originally set to operate much earlier, but because of economic concerns, was pushed forward a year to give manufacturers some much needed time to adjust. Within the next decade, expect to see much stricter measurement and monitoring of emissions, as well as mandatory upgrading of manufacturing processes to better control green house gas emissions.

The other focus of the green manufacturing movement is controlling unnecessary waste produced in industry. There are 7 different types of waste generated in factories and plants that prove to be unprofitable—overproduction, avoidable transportation, energy-wasting motion, waiting times, processing waste, excess inventory and defective products. Developing more environmentally friendly production methods and processes has been growing in popularity in recent years. Soon, green laws could make them strict requirements instead of just good practice. The recycling of waste materials left over from fabrication processes is also about to change. More and more new recyclable raw materials are replacing the old stand-bys that must be disposed of, and those materials that cannot be used to fabricate new products will find secondary uses. True, these green industry changes will be costly upfront. However, in the long run, they dramatically save on energy and raw materials.

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